This is interesting because the brand entered India in 1994 with plans to Americanise the desi breakfast table.
How it started...
Food is, indeed, very dear to Indians. Be it the first meal of the day or the last, most, if not all, of us like it hot, spicy and ‘masaledar’. So much so that when most of the world opts for a healthy, nutritious breakfast like, maybe, fruits, oats or corn flakes, we’d rather go for stuffed paranthas, vada, poha, upma or aloo poori. So much so that when in 1994, Kellogg’s knocked on our kitchen doors asking us to reconsider the butter on our paranthas and the oil in our pooris, and we didn’t pay much heed.
The American multinational food manufacturing company set its foot in the country almost two decades back, with a promise to change the breakfast eating habit with its ‘healthier’ products. While we do prefer a glass of hot sweetened milk along with our breakfast palate, the idea of putting corn flakes in it and forgetting about the paranthas altogether didn’t receive a very warm welcome. More because the milk better be cold than hot for the flakes to stay crispy!
With the Indian market finding it hard to adapt to the taste of the brand’s initial offerings, which included corn flakes, wheat flakes and Basmati rice flakes, the brand’s sales had virtually stagnated by September 1995, as per reports.
In early 1996, defending the company's products, managing director Denis Avronsart said, in an interview, "True, some people will not like the way it tastes in hot milk. And not all consumers will want to have it with cold milk. But over a period of time, we expect consumer habits to change. Kellogg is a past master at the art, having fought - and won - against croissant-and-coffee in France, biscuits in Italy and noodles in Korea."
Around this time, the brand was very clear about what it wanted to do and the kind of change it wanted to bring in the market, Jignesh Maniar, tells afaqs!. He had attended a client (Kellogg’s) meeting on behalf of an agency that he worked (part-time) for, at that time (1998).
In a recent LinkedIn post, Maniar wrote, “I tagged along for the client meeting and distinctly remember the client saying, ‘It took us 20 years to change breakfast habits in France. We will be patient and change breakfast habits in India too.’” Maniar today is the founder of MediaQart, a platform to enable businesses to grow with digital advertising.
In the two decades since then, Kellogg’s launched various products under its seven ranges: Corn flakes (Corn Flakes Original, Corn Flakes With Real Honey, Corn Flakes With Real Honey and Almond, and Corn Flakes With Real Strawberry and Puree), Chocos (Chocos, Chocos Fills, Chocos Moons and Stars, Chocos Crunchy Bites and others), Oats, Muesli (Crunchy Fruits and Nuts, Nuts Delight, Fruit Magic, Muesli No Added Sugar), Special K (Original, Multigrain Oats and Honey, Protein and Fibre Cranberry Flavour), All Bran and Cruchy Granola.
Cut to today…
Kellogg’s India has just launched ready-to-eat-in-3-minutes ‘Upma’ in two flavours: Nutty Rava and Veggie Masala Burst. The product is available across e-commerce platforms and offline stores for Rs 20/pack.
Interestingly, this adds ‘Indian-ness’ to the brand that boasts a basket of American breakfast. It also puts the brand in the same space as MTR, Nestle Maggi, MOM, Tiffin-To-Go and others that offer similar ready-to-make Indian breakfast. Kellogg’s was till now positioning its product range as a ‘healthier’ option, as compared to these brands.
While there has been no official communication on the latest (upma) launch and the brand remained unavailable for comments at the time of filing this story, the product description on Amazon mentions it as ‘Mom like Food’. It goes on to read, “Whenever you are away from home and craving for mom’s food, Kellogg’s Nutty Rava Upma will be at your disposal to make you feel closer to home.”
Here's how some netizens reacted to this launch:
When we asked Maniar what, according to him, may have led the brand to launch what is considered a rather Indian breakfast dish to its portfolio, he says that it’s probably because of Indian mothers. “I am sure they would have said, ‘I am going to feed my kid Indian breakfast and not cereals or oats.’”
Speaking in the same context, food writer and brand consultant Kalyan Karmakar says, when Kellogg’s entered the Indian market 20 years back, it was a very different time. “Around then, the economy had just liberalised, and the consumers were thirsty for international brands and labels. A lot has changed since.”
“Today, the consumer is far more confident and well aware. He/She has travelled the world and has been exposed to international brands. Now, there is an increased sense of appreciation for ‘Indian-ness’.”
According to Karmakar, in such times, a brand can either stick to what it came to do, or evolve, keeping its core value intact. “The question is whether Kellogg’s sees itself as a corn flakes maker, or as a brand that sells nutritious wholesome breakfasts, which is easy to put together. If it’s the latter, I think the new product launch fits in. It shows that the brand is mature, respects the Indian culture and is ready to adapt to it.”
Vani Gupta Dandia, founder of CherryPeachPlum Growth Partners (ex-PepsiCo), feels that just as Westerners don't like hot savoury, spicy breakfast, we Indians don't like cold, sweet, soggy breakfast. And it won't be changing for a long time. Perhaps, never. “To us Indians, all fancy formats food, corn flakes included, can, at best, serve as emergency food available in the kitchen pantry.”
“I launched Quaker Flavoured Oats in India. At that time, it was the first in the category. And the one thing we did right was to crack a flavour very close to the Maggi flavour. After that, everyone else followed – Kellogg’s, Saffola, Horlicks.”
“What led to the adoption of oats in north India (it is strongly embedded in the south, especially Kerala), was the explosion of flavoured oats SKUs by different players. Instant Oats was launched and retracted from the market very quickly. The oats category, like corn flakes, is still struggling.”
Speaking about the upma, Dandia says, “But yes, formats that make regular foods convenient to prepare are welcome, and will gradually find increasing acceptance, starting with the time-stressed double income working couples. What will matter is how close to authentic taste can the ready-to-cook/ready-to-eat pack deliver, and how convenient is it to make.”
Ruchira Jain, founder, Elevate Insights, a strategic insights consultancy (former VP insights, Swiggy, and director at PepsiCo), mentions that when it comes to choices in food and beverages, playing to the local palate is critical. Many multinational marketers have made a mark by entering with their global portfolio, but to win the market, they have had to customise. Growing the category has required most to invest in locally relevant innovation!
Taking the example of McDonald’s, she says, “The Big Mac never saw the Indian market. They revolutionised it into the Chicken Maharaja Mac. The majority of the Indian menu of McDonald’s has been especially curated for India, such as the McAloo Tikki, paneer offerings, etc. At PepsiCo, Masala was our second largest selling flavour (Lay’s chips), after the signature American Style Cream & Onion. Kurkure was specifically launched to cater to the Indian palate.”
Commenting on the launch of Kellogg’s Upma she says, “With the increased demand for convenient, yet home-cooked food, post-COVID, apart from all other macros supporting a rise in packaged foods, I would say, better late than never!”